In 2017, I ran 105 laps around a prison yard to complete a marathon, breaking the record at San Quentin—for the slowest marathon time ever at 6 hours, 21 minutes and 15 seconds. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it showed me that I had the grit and determination to face challenges and persevere through them.
Five years later, after earning a commutation from California Governor Gavin Newsom, I came home from San Quentin. One of my goals was to complete another marathon on the outside. So on November 5, I will be running the New York City Marathon to raise money for a nonprofit I started while incarcerated, and to raise awareness about the hidden talent in America’s prison systems.
Over my 23 years of incarceration, I’ve tried to address the question of how we stop harm, without causing more harm. We have tried mass incarceration but that only punishes symptoms like poverty, a lack of opportunities, isolation, and a culture that breeds hate.
For the last three years, I’ve been trying a different approach. The organization I co-founded, Empowerment Avenue, connects incarcerated writers, artists, and now filmmakers with people in their industry to build life-changing creative partnerships.
I experienced the results of normalizing the inclusion of writers and artists behind bars in the mainstream creative ecosystem firsthand, while still in prison. . Before Empowerment Avenue, I tried to develop my writing career alone from a cell and only published 8 articles in 7 years for a total of $400. After launching Empowerment Avenue (https://www.empowermentave.org), I published 42 articles in 31 months and netted over 5 figures.
Now I want to see everyone in this program parole with six figures in savings, a thriving career in their passion industry, and strong community ties. I believe this kind of work breaks cycles of poverty, harm, and incarceration, and makes us all safer.
Since my release on February 8th, 2023, Empowerment Avenue has seen incredible growth. Writers have published in the New York Times, as well as every other major U.S. newspaper, while we’ve supported numerous exhibits for artists, and filmmakers have gotten accepted into festivals. We have accomplished all this with an army of volunteers and only four employees, two of which are only part-time. To meet the demand for the voices of incarcerated creatives, we need your help to raise $120,000.
To inspire everyone to support this worthy but huge goal is why I am running my second marathon with the New York City Road Runners on November 5th.
Every dollar will help as follows:
- Reaching $5,000 will support expansion of the riter’s Development Program, which we helped seed at Washington Corrections Center in Washington State. In less than a year, those writers published over 60 stories and have collectively earned over $13,500. We would like to expand this program to a women’s prison.
- Reaching $10,000 will supply a full year of books, magazines, stamps and other supplies for Empowerment Avenue writers and artists;
- Reaching $25,000 supports the production of an exhibition curated by an incarcerated artist;
- Raising an additional $40,000 supports the production of DaKalture (https://www.rahsaannewyorkthomas.com/presentation), a film being produced and directed by a man incarcerated in a Michigan State Prison with zero funding so far;
- Reaching the full $120,000 allows us to hire an additional formerly-incarcerated person to round out our staff and help meet the demand for incarcerated stories and art.
I’m sure my marathon time won’t be much better than it was in 2018, so you will have plenty of time to donate. Please help us continue to increase our impact.
To see the type of impact we are already having, subscribe to our newsletter here: https://empowermentave.substack.com